Houston Rockets new head coach Ime Udoka smiles during an NBA basketball introductory press conference in Houston.
Ime Udoka takes over a rebuilding Rockets franchise after leading the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals last season. Credit: Michael Wyke/Houston Chronicle via AP

The Houston Rockets have made perhaps their best coaching hire in years, but Ime Udoka’s introductory press conference Wednesday was mostly about the scandal that caused his eventual demise in Boston.

The primary reason for that is Udoka had not talked publicly about the inappropriate relationship with a Celtics’ staffer last year that became public last September when the team announced it was suspending its star coach for a year on the heels of taking the Celtics to the NBA Finals.

Udoka was eventually fired by the Celtics after one wildly successful season.

There weren’t any surprising revelations Wednesday, just vague talk about the situation, acceptance of what had happened and a desire to move on.

“Honestly, my part in it was to take ownership and accountability for my part,” said Udoka, who is 45. “(The Celtics) had a choice to make, a decision, and they went that route, and my thing was, ‘Own up to it, take responsibility.’ And I served the suspension and had to own it, honestly. So, same thing I’ll preach to the guys. I can’t sit here and not take accountability myself. So, it was their right to go about it however they wanted to and that’s the choice they took.”

Now Udoka’s next opportunity comes with the Rockets, a franchise that is trying to find its way after rebuilding was thrust upon it three seasons ago. The Rockets are headed for the NBA Lottery for a third straight year after finishing tied for the worst record in the Western Conference with a 22-60 finish.

Stephen Silas’ fourth-year option on his contract was not picked up after this season ended, which paved the way for Udoka’s redemption opportunity.

“We’re a forgiving society and everybody makes mistakes,” Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said. “Some things maybe we shouldn’t forgive people for, but I think what happened in his personal situation is definitely something we forgive for.”

The buzzword around Wednesday’s press conference was due diligence, and the Rockets said they definitely did their research into the matter, which many believe was best described as an inappropriate consensual relationship.

“We did diligence not just on him but on every candidate we have,” Rockets general manager Rafael Stone said. “We do it on every important hire. And so, what I would say is that we got comfortable that it was an appropriate hire and that we were comfortable in the process. But just the same way I wouldn’t talk about exactly what we did with anybody else, I’m not going to talk about it with Ime. It’s just, in my view, it’s not appropriate.”

Now Udoka is ready to move on and do what he has been hired to do, and that is turn the young Rockets around almost as fast as he did the underachieving Celtics last season.

“They’ve done their due diligence and homework on who I am as a person,” said Udoka, who guided the Celtics to a 51-31 record and the NBA Finals during the 2021-22 season after they had gone 36-36 the season prior. “I think we’ve spent quality time together, getting to know each other, and clicked pretty easily and pretty well.

“But overall, I released a statement months ago when everything happened and apologized to a lot of people for the tough position I put them in. And I stand by that. And I feel much more remorse even now toward that. I spent this last off-season working on myself in a lot of different ways; improving in areas, a chance to sit back, reflect and grow. And I think that will make me a better coach and overall a better leader.”

Avatar photo

Terrance HarrisPro | College Sports Editor

I've been with The Defender since August 2019. I'm a long-time sportswriter who has covered everything from college sports to the Texans and Rockets during my 16 years of living in the Houston market....